This Session's Magic Words: Woody Biomass

The legislature introduced 34 bills dealing with it, and the Governor paid it special attention when he announced his agenda for the session.

Biomass is the new black. Well, actually, it's the new renewable energy darling. Last session it was ethanol, and before that solar and wind farms.

Biomass, as defined on Wikipedia is "biological material from living or recently living organisms, such as wood waste, hydrogen gas and alcohol fuels."

In Oregon, it's woody biomass. Forest slash from logging operations, wood chips and saw dust from mills, and spent pulping liquor can be burned in large boilers to generate electricity, and Oregon's leaders view it as the newest in a long line of renewable energy sources in the state.

Governor John Kitzhaber thinks woody biomass can address three Oregon issues in one fell swoop: Creating jobs, managing forests and investing in renewable energy.

"Our forest products industry is well positioned to support the increased use of biomass, creating additional renewable energy market opportunities," Kitzhaber said in February.

The Governor's agenda is full of biomass-friendly proposals:

  • He unveiled a new state grant program in February that would put at least $200,000 toward developing new biomass projects that would produce energy.
  • He wants the legislature to renew the business energy tax credit, known as BETC, to spur investment in new biomass energy plants.
  • He included preference for biomass boilers in school retrofit programs.

Kitzhaber applauded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to wait three more years to start regulating the greenhouse gas emissions coming from biomass energy plants. Kitzhaber said EPA's review of the permitting process "will demonstrate the carbon benefits of Oregon's abundant biomass resources."

With all the emphasis on biomass from the Governor's office, legislators are especially sensitive to the issue. In a recent hearing on a bill dealing with biomass, one House member remarked that the bill, which might have died otherwise, had a better chance of passing because it had the word "biomass" in it.